Phurpa – Chöd Ritual / Grotta Santarcangelo CD Old Europa Café 2017
Phurpa has been a rising name in the underground in recent years, which is somewhat expected given their distinct sound and approach which effectively sees this Russian group performing Bon ritual music in a Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Primarily based around chanted vocals of a Tibetan throat singing style, this is mixed with an array of abstracted and minimal traditional ritual instrumentation including horns, cymbals and various percussive implements. Having previously heard a couple of albums from the group, I was then surprised to discover that they now have 26 releases to their name which have been issued over the past decade. Although I have not been able to confirm it, I have an impression that the majority (if not all) of these releases are straight recordings of live performances, rather than studio albums.
On Chöd Ritual / Grotta Santarcangelo the album features a single track spanning close to 80 minutes, and which displays the sonic hallmarks of being a direct recording of one of Phurpa’s live rituals. Sparse percussive sounds provide a droning introduction to the album, before the low guttural throat singing chants arrive full force at around the two-minute mark, and by this stage the catatonic pacing of the vocal driven soundscapes has been firmly set. On occasion the mood elevates to crashing crescendos of cymbals, deep drawling horns, higher pitched atonal wailing thighbone trumpets and a general subterranean percussive thrum, where structurally these instrumentation driven passages are used to bridge and interlink the sections of the cavernous throat chanted vocals.
Having heard this album, in comparison to the others I have also heard, they are noted to be broadly in the same sonic palate and style, where it raises the question of whether you need to hear more than a couple of albums to gain a decent appreciation of what the collective is about. Personally I have enjoyed the experience of becoming acquainted with Phurpha’s atypical musical style and approach, but equally I perhaps don’t anticipate myself regularly revisiting these albums either. I also suspect that there is a far greater inherent power in being able to hear and experience Phurpa’s music in a live ritual setting, where an element of its sonic impact is likely to be lost in the recorded album format. Whether or not I get the opportunity to see the group perform live remains to be seen, but albums such these album’s do at least provide an opportunity to experience the ritual works of Phurpa.
raison d’être – Alchymeia DLP Cyclic Law 2018
Firstly, it is important to acknowledge how integral the works of Peter Andersson/ raison d’être have been to my music appreciation over the last 23 years, which ultimately means any new release from the project is welcomed beyond measure. In a discographic context a further four years have already passed since 2014’s Mise En Abyme album (reviewed here), with the new album seeing a move to Cyclic Law, which indecently is the label which has become the home for many former Cold Meat Industry projects.
Thematically speaking it is necessary to highlight this is not melancholic music for the mere sake of it, rather on Alchymeia (and to quote from the promo blurb): “….Peter Andersson scrutinizes the paths of Carl Gustav Jung’s notions of archetypes and the individuation process. Alchymeia is diving deep down to the shadows of the unconsciousness, and back to a dawn of the true Self. Confronting the shadow within is the darkest time of despair. There seems no way forward, only down. All is blackening and decomposed. Suddenly, through an enantiodromia, the ever deepening descent into the unconscious transmogrifies and becomes gradually illuminated. The melancholia is being purified. The melancholia is being purified. Alchymeia is in a sense the “raison d’être” of raison d’être, a shadowy journey through our unconscious the individuation process and archetypes”. So, certainly a strong thematic context to frame listening and appreciation of the album.
Noting that Alchymeia spans just over 70 minutes, perhaps as expected the mood and pacing of the four album compositions are slow morphing, sacral toned and religious choir/ chant framed dark ambience. Each of the four compositions are then noted to be freeform and amorphous, effectively shifting through difference passages within their run time but also interlinking into a greater whole. However of particularly note are the various sonic elements which arc back to the sound and tone of earlier albums. Such examples of this include: the wind-chimes from Enthraled By The Wind Of Lonelienes; strongly composed/ percussive and vocal driven passages of Within The Depths Of Silence And Phormations; the floating melancholy drones and treated choirs from In Sadness, Silence And Solitude; and not to forget the atonal metallic scrapping textures from The Empty Hollow Unfolds. Yet equally, these recognisable aspects are blended with new sonic elements which include: the prominent church organ timbred drones on Albero; the slow and deep rhythmic ritual drums of Citrinitas; as well as the minimalist contemporary piano melody and deep sustained power drones of Rubedo to name a number selected elements. Noting that each of the four tracks are between seventeen to eighteen minutes each, that has allowed each to neatly fit on a side of vinyl LP, and therefore has allowed the album to be issued on double gate-fold vinyl, and which constitutes the first time that raison d’être have issued an album on this format, in addition to the usual CD and digital. Likewise the artwork is noteworthy for being darkly stunning and visually symbolic of the musical landscapes.
Personally, there are albums within raison d’être’s discography which are untouchable classics, so it is too early to say how this new album will compare in the longer term, but before hearing this I already anticipated I would appreciate whatever was to be presented. Yet even with such a high degree of expectation, I am still surprised by how creative and vital this album sounds and feels, and particularly with it drawing together sonic threads from the last decades of the project and blending these with new avenues of experimentation. In essence Alchymeia another peerless example from an established master of cerebral, introspective and meditative dark ambience of the highest calibre. Recommended.
Mz.412 Vs Folkstorm – Live Ceremony CD Old Europa Café 2015
With Mz.412 having infrequently graced the stage over the years, it was way back in 2000 (18th August) when two of the three members (i.e. Henrik Nordvargr Björkk and Jouni ‘Ulvtharm’ Ollila) teamed up to perform at the Collapse festival in Rostock, Germany. Being billed as Mz.412 vs Folkstorm at the time, this goes partway to explain the harder and harsher elements of this recording which incidentally was previously issued via Pagan Dance in 2004 in a limited edition of 412 copies. This has now been reissued by Old Europa Café with new artwork and the inclusion of additional bonus tracks not included on the original version.
Having previous heard the Mz.412 live album Hekatomb (recorded at Cold Spring’s 21st Anniversary show at The Garage, London, 5 March 2011 – reviewed here), that recording illustrated a more refined presentation of their existing studio works in a live setting. However on Live Ceremony, the recording is a far rougher sonic affair which would seem to reflect an approach of only partially relying pre-recorded segments of music, in order to focus on the live generation of distortion and feedback. Without the inclusion of actual track names, the seven live tracks have been referred at as Act I through Act VII. But by way of example, Act I includes a short fragment of the classic track God of Fifty Names which cuts through live scattered noise, while an additional dialogue sample more thematically aligned with Folkstorm. Vocals are also present in the live setting, but which are heavily treated and again reflect the Folkstorm angle to the live proceedings. As with Act I, a number of recognizable snippets of studio works are used over the seven live tracks, such as on Act III when Der Kampf Geht Weiter from Nordic Battle Signs is blended with the introduction of Deklaration Of Holy War from Burning the Temple of God. But these recognisable fragments of albums function as short interludes which bridge the live sections of loose distorted noise and on occasion tribal/ ritual rhythmic movements, while he final short Act VII relies on sample of a Penderecki styled choral work to conclude the set.
As for the bonus tracks, the two Folkstorm tracks are solid examples of the spitting noise and raw militant industrial meets power electronics material that the project was producing in the early 2000’s. However perhaps of greater interest are the two-short bonus Mz.412, where there is no indication as to which era these are derived from (although Nordvargr later confirmed these are from around 2006/07). Mors Solum Initium Est is the first of the bonus offerings and is a darkly ritualistic affair with a deeply cavernous atmosphere, rattling metallic tones and distant wailing textures, and perhaps more reminiscent of early Archon Satani than typically Mz.412 – but an excellent track all the same. Congregation of the Abyss follows to round out the album and slightly differs given its focus on intensive multi-layered garbled to guttural roaring vocals and sweeping sub-orchestral undercurrent, which overall is a replication of the sound of the Domine Rex Inferum album and another decent track.
Being a generally loose, and at time chaotic live recording, this is a worthwhile document of the live performance, but perhaps not an essential release in Mz.412’s discography. But even in saying that, the inclusion of the two bonus Mz.412 tracks gives clear incentive to track this down.
Stromstad – New Devoted Human LP Malignant Records 2017
This debut release from Stromstad is revealed to be collaborative album between the Finnish duo STROM.ec and Norwegian Kristoffer Oustad – and what a debut it is. With STROM.ec being recognized for a highly refined blend of industrial and heavy electronics and with Kristoffer Oustad inhabiting an evocative industrial smeared dark ambient sound, the creative collaboration between the two was always going to be an interesting one. Yet the creativity and flair on display completely exceeds any initial expectations.
Noting that each of the eight tracks are relatively confined (between three and six minutes each), this functions to generate a sense of urgency across the album, where its shifting and morphing elements draw from abrasive mechanical programming, controlled noise, lush sub-orchestral pads and gruff processed vocals. As an example, the fizzing/ buzzing looped static of the album opener Inherent Resurrection soon gives way to rolling tribal percussion and rough yelled vocals (clearly recognisable as those of STROM.ec), and functions very much as a statement of intent of what is explored over the balance of the album. Fever Wave Dream Function quickly following with woozy drones and off-kilter metallic clatter, shimmering synths and all underscored with a throbbing programmed element which leaps into heavily rhythmic section late in the track. The central buzzing tonality and stilted mechanical textures drives Blood Consciousness and when coupled with the gruff, slightly treated vocals is perhaps the piece most comparable to a straight STROM.ec composition. The sub-orchestral strains of Nattsvermer constitutes the first effective respite of the album, being a semi-melodious cinematic drone-scape which reminds of mid era raison detre (and particularly so where some distant choir textures are used). In a somewhat unexpected guest contribution, Grutle Kjellson from Enslaved provides vocals on Reluctant Traveler, another track of stilted mechanical rhythms and buzzing fissures of static mixed with moody orchestral textures, while Gruttle’s vocals range from spoken, guttural chants and urgent yells (a late track guitar gives a partial nod to the current prog metal direction of Enslaved). The title track is positioned towards the album’s ends is in some ways the most straight forward with rapid fire looped beat, tempered static and vocals relegated to the middle of the mix, but in the later half it veers off into moody sub-orchestral territory, while the final album track Kosto then deviates the most, with a synth derived neo-classical piece of moody swelling strings, and with a definite modern sci-fi edge to the sound.
Not being an overly long album, all the same it delivers a heavy impact across its multiple creative arcs, and which consequently makes it feel to be a much longer album than its actual run-time. While New Devoted Human could be said to be of the genres it draws from, at the same time it steps well beyond them given its inspired use and application of such influences. Effectively the album excels by the fact of how vital the finished result sounds, and in the process generates new creative ways of approaching recognizable genre sound elements. Issued on vinyl in gate-fold sleeve, CD or digital formats, it is simply a matter of taking your pick of preferred format. But as a word of advice, do not let this album pass you by.
Arktau Eos – Catacomb Resonator CD Aural Hypnox 2017
By way of background, the Finnish duo of Arktau Eos released their first three albums via Aural Hypnox label between 2006 and 2009, while the fourth and fifth albums were then simultaneously issued on Svart Records in 2012. Now after a 5 years absence Arktau Eos have returned with new material and again issued via Aural Hypnox, and although Catacomb Resonator is billed as the new ‘album’, in reality it features only a single track of 37 minutes in length.
Although all projects on the Aural Hypnox label can be broadly slotted under the ritual/drone/dark ambient categories, in the past Arktau Eos have displayed a greater degree of musicality and instrumentation than other roster artists, which on early albums made compositions feels to be more akin ‘songs’ than sonic ‘movements’. Yet that established approach has been forgone on Catacomb Resonator, given it has opted for a sprawling drone and vocal chant oriented framework. As I understand it, this album is a predominantly a vocal based work, where this both provides the focus and source material which has been subject of additional treatment and coupled with a minimalist backing of electronics (‘archaic bells’ are also noted on the cover as a sound input, but these are not individually detectable).
The use of word ‘catacomb’ within the title perhaps gives an immediate clue to the tonal depth and sonic reverb employed, which allows low deep chants to rise from the depth to central prominence, to then cyclically fall away only to rise and build again. Those vocal elements are then counterpointed by spartan synth elements which follows the same cyclic rise/ fall pattern. Vocally speaking the chants do not appear to be articulating specific words or lyrics, and given the applied sonic treatments they resemble a drone ambient element. Likewise given the meditative and catatonic pacing of the track, it is very much a dark and minimalist sound you have to immerse yourself in to get the most out of it.
For me personally, I already have established favorite releases from the group which includes Mirrorion, as well as the sprawling double album Ai Ma Ra. While for me Catacomb Resonator does not surpass either of those releases, this says more of its deviating approach than any sort of lack of quality, as regardless of my personal preferences all Arktau Eos releases to date have been of excellent quality (this included). Presentation wise Catacomb Resonator has been issued on both CD with screen printed foldout 7”ep sized cover, and on LP in two colour variations for the screen printed sleeve.
Atomine Elektrine – The Second Moon CD Old Europa Café 2017
Operating since the mid 1990’s, Atomine Elektrine is perhaps Peter Andersson’s most well-known and recognized side project of raison d’être. The Second Moon is the new and sixth full length album, if not including demo collections and live material which have also been formally released on CD.
With the project name being the Lithuanian word for ‘nuclear power plant’, there has always been and ‘Eastern Bloc’ angle to the sound and approach of the project, where it could also be suggested that the deep space elements and melodic passages sonically articulate the space program era of the Soviet Union. To then quickly speak of context, personally the project hit an absolute high mark with their second album Archimetrical Universe from 1999, which perfectly blended abstract deep space movements with more melodious compositions and occasionally beat driven programming. While the albums which followed experimented with this template, more often than not the abstracted and experimental elements took greater focus, but did not archive the same sonic coherence of Archimetrical Universe (although it must be said that none of the following albums could be considered lackluster or poor in quality by any means).
As a general observation The Second Moon builds on the template of 2015’s Laniakea album, which was framed around sparse and floating deep space drones, which are augmented with looping musical phrases which gives a nod to 1970’s era cosmic space synth music of Tangerine Dream and the like. Yet on this new album there feels to be a greater degree of cohesion and focus to the combination of the deep space drones and pulsing melodious elements. Structurally the album has a drifting and enveloping quality, where the drones and melodies elevate in intensity, to then recede again and build anew, which makes it an album length experience, rather than one focusing on individual musical pieces (featuring only five track, it still has an expansive run time given the shortest track is eight minutes and the longest twenty minutes in length).
Although I have followed and enjoyed all of Atomine Elektrine’s outputs over the years, equally I have found The Second Moon to be one of the most listened to of the last few albums, which is predominantly down to its refinement and balancing of its sonically abstracted and melodious parts. A cleanly designed, 4 panel digi-pack rounds out the presentation.
Murderous Vision – What We’re Able To Recover MCDr Live Bait Recording Foundation 2017
This three track EP is the first new material issued in a couple of years from Stephen Petrus’s long-standing project which charts a midpoint between abrasive dark ambience and subdued death industrial. Evidently this release was issued in part to fund travels to the CMI 30th Anniversary Festival in Stockholm, and to coincide with some live shows in Finland around the same time.
The opening track Protocols of Removal is the longest track at 13 minutes, featuring an undercurrent of a yawning and grinding dark ambience, while a low-key sparse ‘beat’ and swelling synth pads, and a semi-buried dialogue sampled provides further tonal variation. Through the middle and late sections of the track it pushes towards a heavier and heaving inwardly spiraling vortex, including ritual styled chimes, metallic textures and wonky ‘kraut’ synth lines added for good measure. No Ascension follows and is a more dour and cavernous death industrial affair of murky layered tonality, crumbling muted distortion, sparse ritual gongs and garbled indecipherable voices (both spoken and chanted). The title track rounds out the EP with a short four minute track of a structure straight forward death industrial offering of a plodding militant tinged rhythmic framework, sparse synth lines and distortion spat vocals.
All in all What We’re Able To Recover is another solid, albeit quite short release from the ever dependable Murderous Vision, while packaging wise, the clean and simple design thankfully avoids all of the worst aspects of a slapdash presentation which often befalls the Cdr format.